It’s back to school time again! Certainly, we have enjoyed the company of our children for the summer. We have enjoyed our progeny for 9 1/2 weeks or 63 days or 1,512 hours or 90,720 minutes or ’if you are really a masochist’ 5,443,200 seconds!
As happy as we may be to have them back at their studies, our fondest wishes are reserved for their feelings. We want them to want to return to school. To want to succeed. To enjoy the quest. To work hard, perhaps even harder, this year.
What can we do to help? Three rules of motivation
- We cannot motivate children. We can create lots of stress for them (and us); we can complicate their lives; we can insist; we can punish; we can see that the homework gets done. But motivation comes from inside.
- Children motivate themselves when they discover we are offering them something they want. This means that our job is to lead them to understand why they should motivate themselves.
- Your child is already motivated to do those things that they feel are important or of value to them. They lose motivation when they are expected to do things they do not understand and that do not appear to be important to them.
So what happens when our kids start back to school seemingly motivated and then lose that momentum? Where does their motivation go?
No matter how hard it is to believe, our kids are capable of logical and rational thought. How they are acting is a direct result of some conclusion or feeling they have – usually not consciously held – about themselves. If they don’t appear motivated, it’s because, deep down, they have concluded that giving the appearance of trying is not in their best interest. If I can’t succeed – don’t try! Or something like that.
The trick for us, as parents, is to make sure that our expectations are properly understood at our child’s level, not just at ours. Ask me why you should learn to succeed in school and I will tell you stuff about success, self-esteem, graduation, university or college, getting a good job and so on. Good answer, but what if you are 10 years old? What does that answer mean? Nothing! It has absolutely no motivating power to the child at all. It must mean something at your own child’s level or it is just rain being shed off a duck’s back.
The Last True Secret
And finally, here is the last, true secret. Motivation is a result of the action you take to achieve your values and goals! Action comes first; motivation follows. For the first few months of every new school year, help your kids devise a study time, help them get and stay organized and make sure they know how to start every assignment or homework piece. Enrolling in a good study program will help.
Help them get started! That’s the key “starting” action! Action first, feelings later. Don’t expect deep feelings of motivation to arrive before action. Start the engines first. The celebration comes later!
By R. N. Whitehead
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We all want to be involved in our kid’s lives. We just don’t know how. By involved I mean by being able to talk with our kids and not just providing a taxi service. Unfortunately, habit and insecurity often prevent us from establishing those bonds.
Here are a few suggestions for you and your family to consider.
Too many families rush through dinner. The entire conversation may run something like, “So, what did you do in school today?” followed by, “Not much, same old stuff.” Not the sort of conversation to stretch your horizons.
But, you can change that. Begin your dinner conversation with, “Before we start to eat, let’s all think about the most interesting thing we saw, heard or someone told us about today. When you have thought of something, put your fork in front of your plate. When we all have one, we can go around the table and hear them all.”
You will probably have to work at this initially but it will soon become a daily time that everyone looks forward to. Parents will soon learn about new interests and activities that their children may not have thought to discuss or share with them. Remember, you have to share too, not just give lip service. Your kids will actually get to know you — who you are and what you like.
Early to Bed, Early to Read
Most families waste the precious hours between dinner and bedtime. With so much time spent on video games and television, conversation and family activities are often neglected. Why not reclaim one golden hour?
Armed with the knowledge of what interests your child or children, visit the library or local bookstore and get books and magazines that will catch their interest. Then announce that bedtime has temporarily been moved up one hour. If you feel that your child should be asleep by 9 p.m., make bedtime 8 p.m. and so on.
Give them the books and magazines and tell them they have a choice between going right to sleep and reading for one hour. Virtually every child will choose the extra hour. If you have chosen the reading material carefully, you will be amazed at the new interest they develop in the printed word.
What are your family values? Not your values — we all have those, don’t we? No, I mean your family values. Most families don’t ever think to create a value statement with their family. Here is an example of a value list drawn up by a family. This family viewed values as commitments to themselves and others. Your list can be different but this will give you an idea.
- Commitment to oneness — sharing everything with each other;
- Commitment to seeking — actively looking for our highest potential;
- Commitment to service — looking for ways to help family members and others;
- Commitment to priorities — to base every decision on them;
- Commitment to planning — to live life on yearly, monthly and weekly goals.
We have lost much of what it means to be family. Most of us live as individuals — which is great — but we don’t invest in the “we” of our little group. This would be fine if, after the kids have grown and left, we didn’t miss them so much. Or, if after we have passed on, our kids wouldn’t feel, “Why didn’t I get to know more about Mom or Dad while they were here?”
But we do have those feelings. So, don’t shortchange yourself. You be the one to start today. Turn off the TV and turn on the family!
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Every year the cycle gets repeated
After a summer spent chasing butterflies, swimming, working or just plain lazing about, hundreds of thousands of students file back into their schools after Labour Day — ready for a new school year. Or are they?
“We have to allow at least a month for everyone to get settled and back in a learning mood,” a teacher friend recently told me. That puts us into October and, according to other teachers, many students are still not refocused and ready to learn by then or even into November.
This would mean that from July 1, through at least October 15, and probably November 10, many students are not focused or at their best. “For at least three-and-one-half months, learning can be haphazard to say the least,” says Robert Primrose, a Grade 10 teacher.
In fact, it may even be worse than that. Think about your child’s learning experiences in June each year. Tests, exams, field trips and other events consume most of that month’s schedule, adding another 30 days to the let down period.
Considering that the average school year includes only 195 days of instruction and that almost half of those days are spent in less than ideal conditions, we soon see why many schools struggle to meet the educational expectations of parents and society.
What can you do to help?
Easy. Help your kids stay sharp over the summer holiday and there will be no let down — no big gap in the fall. Kids who are focused and ready in September will learn, integrate and understand new material right away. This will allow them to make the most of each school day instead of only half of them.
There are many ways to help kids remain on top of their school skills. Make sure that your children read during the summer. Even if they have a busy social life and a part- or full-time job, make sure that they take time each day to read. Set up brief study periods at least every other day. Times when your child can review the worst or hardest subjects, read ahead into next year’s material and organize for next year.
Possibly the best way to help students stay sharp is through a good summer program such as those at Oxford Learning Centres to help keep thinking, reading, writing, math and study skills sharp and ready for September.
It’s not so much the memorized material that students forget over the summer, it’s learning how to learn that gets forgotten each summer. That’s because it is seldom taught independent of school subjects. Students who develop good learning and thinking skills will be ready for success in September. Attending a study session over the summer can overcome the summer let-down.
Holidays are similar. While it is important for parents to allow students a chance to breathe, to relax and to unwind, holidays often fall just prior to the time of year where tests, final exams and report cards loom large and many students are beginning to accumulate a certain level of anxiety.
Make sure that your student has fun over the holidays. Having fun means activity. Lying in front of the TV or staying at the video game or computer terminal for days at a time does not qualify. Make sure that life is balanced. Go for family walks to look at the holiday lights. Go skating. Sing carols in your neighbourhood. Play in the snow. Ski. Toboggan. In other words, get active!
The very worst thing we can do is to allow our kids to just drop down on a couch and vegetate for two weeks. By December, our children should be in full mental gear. They will have recovered from the summer holidays and will be alert and mentally active. The holiday should give them a breather but not cause them to become mentally passive again.
You can prevent this by planning fun activities. The challenge is to keep our students mentally active and focused. We can do this in a number of ways.
High School Students
Exams are looming. High school students should plan two hours of study per day over the holiday. Each subject should be analyzed and divided into units. Let us assume that the math exam is scheduled for Jan 20. That means that there are approximately 30 days (or units) left before the exam. Divide math into 30 units and study one each day. Make sure students use a Day Planner so that they can do a little every day. When they get back to school, they must keep their current work up to date.
Grades 1 to 3
Read, Write, Play. Read and play games that require concentration and memory. Make a family journal for the holiday and write in it every day. Talk about stories, books and TV shows. Don’t just let them be passively absorbed. Discuss what happened. Why? What else might have happened?
Grades 4 to 6
Work on planning. It is often hard for kids to master the Day Planner while they are at school. Use it every day to plan family activities such as feeding the cat, walking the dog, putting up the Christmas tree, buying a present for Aunt Millie, going skating and so on. Make it part of your life and make it fun.
Writing is often a problem for this age group. The family journal is often a hit here too. Write in it every day. Describe the holiday fun and activity. Encourage reading by purchasing magazines. Choose specific activity magazines that match the interests of your child – skiing, history, cats and so on.
No pressure but lots of attention and encouragement.
Grades 7 to 8
If exams or tests are planned for January, then use the same strategy as for high school students. Again, focus on Day Planners. Make sure that they are written in every day. Use them to prioritize activities and plan events.
Plan TV viewing. Try to get as many history and nature specials as you can, then discuss them — go to the library or use the Internet to do more research on these subjects. If you just watch these programs and then do something else, your kids will see that remaining passive is okay.
Play strategy board games, such as chess, Clue, Risk and so on. Games that are competitive and yet require thinking are the best.
Don’t forget to plan activities and have fun!
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You may be interested to know that the decisions to limit vocabulary and to end phonics were a result of ideas that originated in the 1890s. In the 1890s, one group of educators disagreed with an earlier group of educators. They wrote books and lectured and more than 100 years later we have books with pictures, limited words, and no phonics.
Driven by 1890s ideas
I am not just talking about reading either! Almost every subject being taught in today’s classrooms is being driven by these 1890s ideas. We are still following these early ideas virtually unchallenged. Their philosophy is not understood even by those who assume its truth and write new materials based upon its assumptions.
Failure not a negative aspect of life
Today’s classroom programs are merely the application of these ideas. One of these ideas was that self-esteem can be damaged by failure. Nonsense! Self-esteem develops precisely because we learn that we are capable of dealing with life – of overcoming failures!
Another belief was that language is for communication. Even worse claptrap! Language is for thinking. Communication flows from thinking. Education today uses language as a blunt instrument; an imprecise means of conveying feelings – of communicating.
But learning language is about precision. It is about meaning. It requires clear thought. It requires time for integration and learning – everything that today’s programs do not allow. The results are all around us. Kids who can’t read, concentrate, or pay attention; kids who are not motivated.
An unmotivated mind is a passive mind. Motivation means finding a way to show your children that changing is to their advantage. Children can begin this process by learning that while life is full of joy and triumph, it may also contain failure. Because we love our children and don’t want them to be hurt, we often try to avoid situations where they may fail. If we fight too many battles for our children or shelter them from the stings of little defeats, they never learn that victory is won at a cost.
We must teach our children that if they learn certain basic sets of rules, they will experience success. Children must be able to say to themselves, “Even if I don’t succeed right away, I am capable of understanding, trying and eventually succeeding.”
Initially, parents can help this process along by creating small challenges and giving occasional rewards, such as stickers, praise, tickets to the water slide or even the occasional cheeseburger. Obviously the best and longest lasting motivation comes from the development of a healthy self-esteem. But occasional treats are not entirely bad.
Children with passive minds will not develop healthy and robust self-esteem. Being active means making the attempt. Being passive means waiting for someone to act for us. Helping a child to develop an active mind is not only one of the greatest gifts a parent can give but also is one of the greatest challenges we face.
Excerpt from Active Minds! by Dr. R. N. Whitehead, Director, Oxford Learning.
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I recently reviewed the results of a series of tests and something kept bothering me. Why did so many seemingly normal kids appear to have an attention deficit? Are we just getting better at identifying this problem or is something else going on?
In addition to measuring and testing kids for attention deficit, we need to reconsider our lifestyles and the ways we teach children. I believe that many attention problems are the result of learned behaviour.
Many kids can’t pay attention because they have not been taught the skill of concentration. I am not trying to claim that attention deficits do not exist; quite the contrary. However, many kids who have trouble paying attention do not have an attention deficit. They merely have a short attention span. I believe this is partly due to television, movies, video games and the quick pace of modern life. Our busy, busy lives have trained our cognitive processes to look for quick bites, fast answers.
It’s a learning process
So what can parents and teachers do about this? Spend quiet time with the children, read books, have long discussions uninterrupted by television or the telephone. That old advice to stop and smell the roses still holds true. We need to teach our kids how to learn and how to pay attention. In all but a few cases, paying attention is a learned skill. Children with true Attention Deficit Disorder cannot pay attention, but most kids today do not suffer from this disorder. Most of our children have not been taught how to pay attention.
Recently, my daughter filled our house with friends. It seemed as if 100 six-year-old girls had suddenly moved in. They created forts, nurseries, schools and stores. Every child was assigned a task. Some were storekeepers, some were parents, others were infants. Before assuming her role, almost every child took the time to prepare for it. Many rearranged their space while talking to themselves about whom they were and how they would act.
This was very interesting for me. They took time to reflect and consider. They prepared. They created their own space and demanded enough time to get ready to have fun! My daughter and her friends knew that they needed to concentrate, so they created an environment where that would be possible. Left to their own devices, kids seem to understand the need for quiet reflection, concentration and paying attention.
It is mostly in school-related activities that these skills go wanting. After watching these kids for a couple of hours, I thought about a typical classroom scene. There is little time for quiet reflection and even less personal space. Educational programs today are not designed for individuals; they are designed for groups.
Why is this the case? Why are our children attending daycare, kindergarten, and the primary grades one through three and not learning how to pay attention? All of these programs are supervised or taught by highly competent and well-trained individuals. Kids come and go through these delightful classrooms. They enjoy themselves. They follow the program. But what programs are they following? Where do these programs come from? Who writes them?
When your child comes home from school or daycare and tells you about the activities of the day, have you ever considered that they may not be appropriate?
Books have limited vocabulary
Every program being taught by teachers – and every textbook ever written – has an underlying set of ideas based on a philosophy. It is these ideas that determine the methods used by teachers (along with the material contained in textbooks). For example, those of us who are over 40 may remember a time when most of our reading material was found in books called readers, which had literary merit. A typical elementary school reader contained numerous stories of differing difficulty, stories to challenge and entertain pupils of various ages and abilities.
Go into a Grade 1 or 2 classroom today and you will find hundreds of small, colourful books full of simple words and pretty pictures. The books in today’s classrooms have a very limited vocabulary. Publishers strive to publish stories with “age appropriate” vocabulary. Why? Who decided this? Has it helped or hurt?
In the classrooms of the past, we were taught to read using phonics. We were able to read well in Grade 1 and 2 and we read from those old readers. Sure, the books had some pictures, yet our minds and imaginations supplied most of the excitement.
I knew what Moby Dick looked like; I saw him in my mind’s eye. That exercise in itself helped to develop concentration and attention. Using our inner eye – our imagination – helped us to develop the ability to focus and concentrate. We had to. We wanted to “see” what we were reading. We used our minds.
But there were other differences as well, such as vocabulary. We were reading from books containing literature. The vocabulary was demanding and the stories complex and exciting. (It is very difficult to make a story complex or exciting with limited vocabulary and more pictures than words.) Because we were enjoying the stories, we had to concentrate on the context of the story or we would not be able to understand what we were reading. That too forced us to concentrate.
Excerpt from Active Minds! by Dr. R. N. Whitehead, Director, Oxford Learning.
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Recently a young man described the method he used when he was reading. “Well, I just read,” he said. “You know, I open the page and I look at the words.” In other words, he was just waiting for the words to create an impression on him. But words by themselves are just clusters of sounds coded into funny little shapes and printed on the pages of the book. No amount of wanting or trying would get those words off the page and into my friend’s brain without a conscious effort on his part!
This lesson applies to motivating children as well. An unmotivated mind is a passive mind. Motivation means finding a way to show your child that changing is to his or her advantage.
Children can begin this process by learning that while life is full of joy and triumph, it may also contain failure. Because we love our children and don’t want them to be hurt, we often try to take away their failure. If we fight too many battles for our children, or shelter them from the stings of little defeats, they never learn that victory is won at a cost.
Children must learn that engaging in the battle is fun. Failing is not wrong! It is a cause for celebration because it means we are trying. Learning this requires a subtle paradigm shift. We have been sold a bill of goods about self-esteem and failure because someone told us that failure damages self-esteem.
Nonsense. Failure allows healthy children to develop self-esteem. Knowing that a child can try, fail, and try again is the beginning. It helps to develop the confidence that somehow he or she can cope (“Somehow I can figure this out”).
Next we must teach our children that if they learn certain basic sets of rules they will experience success. In order for children to build a healthy self-esteem, they must believe that they live in a world that they can understand. In other words, the child must be able to say to himself or herself, “Even if I don’t succeed right away, I am capable of understanding, trying and eventually succeeding.”
The next step to motivating is to help the child relate the task to something that is important in their own life. Why will this be a good thing to do? What will I gain from the change?
Small challenges and rewards
Our job as parents is to help children find the answers to these questions by using examples from their day-to-day world. Initially, you can help this process along by creating small challenges and giving occasional rewards for trying. Offering stickers, praise, tickets to the water slide or even the occasional cheeseburger can be part of a child’s motivation. Obviously the best and longest lasting motivation comes from the development of a healthy self-esteem and confidence in his or her own mind. But occasional treats are not entirely bad.
Children with passive minds will not develop healthy and robust self-esteem. Being active means making the attempt. Being passive means waiting for someone or something else to act for us. Helping a child to develop an active mind is not only one of the greatest gifts a parent can give but also one of the greatest challenges we can face.
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